History

The first Lithuanians to settle in the Cleveland area arrived in around 1871. However, it was not until 1921 that the first athletic club was organized by Jurgis Venslovas, which was then known as the Lithuanian Catholic Athletic Club. 

In 1937, an event hosted by the City of Cleveland was attended by a basketball team from Lithuania. The next year, Lithuanians from Cleveland travelled to Kaunas to participate at the first (1938) Lithuanian National Olympiad which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the restoration of Lithuania's independence. Here 3 gold and 2 silver medals in track and field were won by J. Prokopas. Cleveland's team leader, J. Venslovas brought the flag of the first Lithuanian National Olympiad which had been blessed by Archbishop J. Skvireckas, home to the United States. This flag had been presented to him by President Antanas Smetona of Lithuania. In 1986, the flag was presented to LAUNA by the Žaibas club.

After World War II, approximately 30,000 Lithuanians immigrated to the United States and some 3,000 settled in the Cleveland area. Their arrival reinvigorated the Cleveland Lithuanian community.

Cleveland's Žaibas was formed on May 5, 1950. Thirty years of a well established athletic tradition was transferred to the newly arrived exiles. Its first president was Vytautas Januskis. With the arrival of Algirdas Bielskus in Cleveland a new track and field section was added in 1950. The club's activities rapidly expanded to include other sports. The men's and women's volleyball teams. coached by Rytas Babickas, dominated in most athletic events. 

In 1951, at the 1st North American Lithuanian Games (LAUNA), Žaibas members participated in basketball, volleyball, and table tennis. The following year, the club hosted the 2nd North American Lithuanian Games in Cleveland and fielded teams in basketball, volleyball, table tennis, and track and field. Zaibas was strongly represented in mens basketball but where they excelled on a national VBA level was at women's volleyball. Their women's teams led by legendary coach Rytas Babickas dominated Lithuanian and Baltic games for decades and were represented at the highest AAU levels in the nation.

In 1956, the club also became active in swimming. Tennis was embraced in 1959, skiing in 1969, biathlon in 1978, riflery in 1980, racquetball in 1982, and softball in 1993. In its 60+ year history, Žaibas has actively participated in and hosted numerous sporting events.

In 1991, Vidas Tatarunas was elected president specifically to renew the sagging interest in Lithuanian youth sporting events not only in Cleveland but all over North America. With a small but enthusiastic new group of volunteers he led the resurgence of Žaibas Juniors in Cleveland. That year after a 5 year hiatus, he recruited a boys basketball team to represent Žaibas in the renewed 1991 North American Lithuanian (LAUNA) Juniors games held in Toronto, Ontario. The team didn't fare very well but they were determined to return with numbers the following year.

In 1992, Žaibas Juniors did return represented by 4 basketball teams in 4 different age groups (including those same boys from the previous year) and shocked the other LAUNA clubs by winning the Boys C Class Basketball Championship for the first time in 10 years! That started the upward trend whereby Žaibas Juniors continued to grow in membership and dominance reaching the pinnacle height in 1999 when the club decided to host the SALFASS Juniors Basketball tournament in Cleveland. The results were overwhelming with 53 teams and over 500 athletes and their families from all over North America participating in what turned out to be the largest single Lithuanian Juniors sporting event to date. 

Žaibas Juniors continue to represent the Northeast Ohio Lithuanians in all of the annual LAUNA events while hosting many of these tourneys (the most recent at the Spire facility in Geneva, OH) and continuing the fine tradition of sporting excellence that was started in 1950.

Žaibas has been led by the following individuals: Vytautas Januskis (1950), Algirdas Bielskus (1950-1957), Rytas Babickas (1957-1975), Juozas Kijauskas (1975-1991), Vidas Tatarunas (1991-2013) and Peter Titas (2013-present).

Žaibas Juniors, Inc. presently has over 100 active members.